The Death of Us

The Death of Us

When Captain Harland and his crew are stranded on an uncharted island, their only chance for survival lies in a strange and seemingly abandoned ship. But there is something beyond human understanding on board, and few who hear its call can keep from falling to madness… or worse.

Written by Cera Rose Madrigal, under the name Jay Kerschner.

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The chairman nodded. “Thank you, Mr. Coleman; that concludes the regular agenda for this meeting. Before we disperse, I’d like to take this opportunity to give the floor to our own Mr. Whitlock. I understand he has a matter of some importance to share with the guild.”

When he heard his name, Verne Whitlock looked up and glanced about the room, nervous as the many eyes of the Midcrest Mariners’ Guild fell upon him. Verne was a merchant, with a warm and well-known smile, but on that particular day he was not his usual cheery self. Those seated nearest him might even have described him as looking grim. He twitched erratically, and his sunken eyes revealed a disturbing lack of sleep. It took him some time to gather his thoughts.

“Thank you… yes… I do have a matter to bring to the table,” he said. “So… right… to get to the matter at hand. It concerns my husband and business partner, Captain Morris Harland. He failed to return to port nine months ago from a trading voyage to Sutasi. We’ve… we’ve not heard from him since. I long ago assumed the… the worst…”

Verne trailed off, drawing some concerned murmurs from the gathered merchants and sailors. His assistant, Emilia, gave him a light tap on the shoulder and he came to.

“Last Monday, however,” he continued, “I came into the possession of an explanation of sorts. The details are troubling—worse even than I had feared—but I think they are potentially relevant to… everyone, perhaps… at least to many local families… perhaps also to any sailors going near Felira’s Cape. I’d like to share with you what Morris has written… what I believe are most likely his last meaningful words.”

The chairman silenced the questioning crowd. “Mr. Whitlock, how did you come by this?”

“A messenger approached me with these.” Verne indicated the somewhat curled papers before him. “He said they were found along Glimmerfall’s shore. He… he didn’t describe how he came to possess them, and by the time I realized what they were… well, I’m afraid I was too distracted by their contents to ask him anything before he left. But, uh… to begin…”

He took the papers to start reading, but his trembling hands couldn’t keep them unrolled all the way.

“Let me,” whispered Emilia.

Verne handed them to her. “Yes… thank you.” He looked back up at the full room. “I’m… it appears I’m in no condition to speak. My assistant here shall do so in my stead, if she may…”

“By all means,” said the chairman. He glanced to Emilia. “Go on then.”

And so she began.

My name is Morris Harland. I am a co-owner of Sunrise Sky Mercantile in Midcrest and captain, formerly, of the ship Sapphire. I address this letter to my husband, Mr. Verne Whitlock, also of Sunrise Sky Mercantile and a longstanding member of the Midcrest Mariners’ Guild. I implore anyone who might receive this message to have it delivered to him as soon as possible. If the distance to Midcrest is far, he will surely compensate you for your troubles.

My dearest Verne—

I’m afraid that, as I write this, I am not long for this world. My ship and crew have been captured by a malevolent force, and I fear I will soon succumb to that same evil. As I write this, I am lucid, or at least more so than I have been in any recent days. I hope for this account to chronicle events as they actually happened, but I cannot be certain it does. In these trying days, it has grown difficult for me to distinguish reality from mere illusions.

The first signs of trouble came several weeks past. I’ve long since lost track of the precise day. It began during our return voyage from the Sutasi Highlands, where trade went more or less as expected. Sapphire was heavy with ores and coin, and I sought a fast return so we might share in the profits. In our journey home, we had just passed Felira’s Cape, but I’ll not be more specific about our whereabouts. It would, I think, be best that nobody try to follow in our wake.

It was Lennis who first noticed something amiss, and that seems as good a place to start as any. He was our new seeker—I’m not certain you ever met him. Suffice it to say, his arcane sight was far stronger than that of any other seekers I’ve worked with. Our cargo included many enchanted relics he found in a lost city buried along Sutasi’s coastline. Again—best that I not give directions. I suspect that place may have been the true beginning of our troubles.

When Len spoke to me, a storm was fast approaching, and all my crew were frantic in preparing for it. “There’s something the matter with that storm,” Len said, or that’s as near as I remember it now. I didn’t pay him any mind and told him to either help out or get below deck. I wish now that I’d listened closer to him, but what’s done is done, and the storm was soon upon us.

I’ve navigated through my fair share of tempests, but this was surely the worst. My crew and I did all we could to keep her steady and somewhat on course, but there was no hope for it. A thunderous crack and a sudden jolt told me that we’d failed. We’d hit upon unseen rocks, and Sapphire didn’t stand a chance against them with the storm still raging.

The ship rocked as she stumbled against the shoreline. I was tossed aside with such force that I bashed my head against the wall. For my last conscious instant I was certain the blow had killed me. Of course, now I can only imagine how sweet such relief might have been. Then, at least, I’d not have had to live through all that has come after.

I awoke the next morning alive, but not the least bit well. The splitting pain felt like someone had taken a hatchet and buried it deep in my skull. I was in my cot, and my wound had been bandaged. The knowledge that Sapphire had somehow survived brought some initial relief, but it did nothing to dull the pain.

Once I recovered enough to step outside, I only had to take one look at Sapphire’s hull to know she’d never sail again. Jagged rocks lined the shore, and though she leaned upon them to keep from sinking, they had torn into her like I’d never dared imagine.

The storm had been a vicious one. It had injured many of my crew and taken the lives of seven: Burch, Cramer, Hodes, Graham, Ballard, Casanell, and Winters. Each died with their own wits well and full about them, fighting for the survival of both themselves and their fellows. Looking back at it all now, it is clear to me they were the fortunate ones.

We’d run aground on a small, rocky island. I saw no life other than ourselves. Not even plants seemed willing to sprout in the island’s few earthy places. The only other thing in sight was a ship, likewise run aground but not quite so damaged as Sapphire. On the ship’s side, where you might expect to see a name, was a series of unfamiliar runic symbols. I decided I would investigate the wreck after seeing to the rest of our own situation.

I went to our maps, figuring the isle might have been charted, but there was no sign of it. Indeed, the maps showed nothing at all in the whole area where we possibly could have crashed. I checked my compass, to get some better idea of our alignment, but found the needle spinning lazily, unwilling to settle on any fixed point. I determined north, roughly, by the sun, and resolved to tend to the compass later, though I never got around to doing so.

I next saw to my crew. The survivors’ injuries would heal with time. Since Hodes had perished, we were fortunate that Wilburn had decent medical skills. If it hadn’t been for him, I’m sure we’d have had to deal with quite a few more infections.

Nothing of particular note happened until I checked on Len. I found him on the main deck, his arms arest on Sapphire’s rail. He was staring out at the grounded ship I’d seen earlier, with a mix of eagerness and fear plain in his golden eyes. When I approached him, he spoke, and what he said chilled me to my very bones.

“We’re not going to leave here.”

Myself and the rest of my crew tried to deny our situation, but he said what we were all thinking, and he sounded convinced of it. He did not cling, even in vain, to any hopes of rescue or escape. I tried to reassure him with my hollow words,but I don’t think he believed me any more than I believed myself.

“That ship,” Len said, pointing at the foreign craft. “That ship right there. It’ll be the death of us. There’s something a’matter with it, something bleak and dark and hungry. Enchanted, yes, but not in any way I’ve ever seen. It’s brought us here because it wants us, and it will not stop until it’s had its fill.”

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